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Zabbix Review
Extremely powerful and flexible but the auto-discovery function has room for improvement


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On a scale from 1-5 (1=worst, 5=best), how would you rate this product overall compared to similar products?
- In my experience there are two classes of network management systems, Open-source systems that are generally free, and commercial systems complete with support as well as some advanced self configuring features. Zabbix actually fits into both classes, but in my view it has more in common with the open source systems.
- Compared to SIMILAR products, I would give it a 5. This means as compared to similar open-source tools that do not have a strong network auto-discovery feature.
- By network auto-discovery, I mean features found in tools like SolarWinds, NetMRI and other commercial products that have part of the configuration work done in advance. For example, when I plug in NetMRI and give it a list of login/password combinations and an IP range, it is able to self-configure, finding most of my network gear automatically. Network discovery is a useful feature that can reduce the amount of time it takes to integrate a system.
- Zabbix does have a discovery feature, but it is configured by the user. Zabbix is extremely powerful, and I got the network discovery tool working in just a couple hours after my first installation. The advantage is that it can be used to detect and configure non-standard devices.
- The self-configuring systems like SolarWinds and NetMRI seem like they have an advantage, however there is a cost associated with that advanced function. The largest one being that they only support a small set of big-names, like Cisco. Not everything on a network is a Cisco, so that advantage quickly becomes less important.

For how long have you used this product?
- Over 6 years.

Which features of this product are most valuable to you?
- It is the flexibility of the system that I enjoy the most. I can make it do things that are unique to me, such as do deep analysis of a custom device that I built. Or non-standard hardware that require unique test methods. Of course it also does the standard stuff very well. I have Zabbix monitoring Servers, network components, Air conditioners, etc. I have it alerting field installers for an ISP, to let them know that they have made an error in configuring an end-user router.
- It can do anything I can imagine doing. I even keep an eye on my BBQ smoker at home with Zabbix.

Can you give an example of how this product has improved the way your organization functions?
- The best examples are in an ISP and in a large network of Hospitals.
- In an ISP, it allows the network operators to track the performance for each customer, and know about outages before the customers do. It allows the operators to track network quality so that problem trends are detected before customers are impacted. It also watches for new devices being connected to the network, and tracks environmental conditions in field. If we discover a new condition to watch for, it takes only seconds to add new tests to thousands of devices.
- In a hospital network where there are many mission critical systems, I can use it to track and report on SLA's as well as monitor unique medical devices that you are not going to find supported by a system like SolarWinds. It allows me to create dash-boards for executives, giving each management user a front page view that is specific to their needs. So each user sees what they need, and nothing that they don't need. With the discovery engine, I can take common network components, and create a template for the desired configuration. Then I can have the system scan the entire network and automatically identify and add each different type of equipment to the system.

What areas of this product have room for improvement?
- The auto-discovery function could be improved to include more hands-off automation. The current system is great for experts, but it could be improved so that a novice could use it as well.

Did you encounter any issues with deployment, stability or scalability?
- In the early versions, there were some scaling issues, but there have been several large improvements in that area, and in general the system is much more scalable than most systems, such as SolarWinds.

Did you previously use a different solution and if so, why did you switch?
- I have used many different systems over the years. As time passes, each system was replaced by a different competing system. Each new system was better than the ones before it, with improvements in ease of use, scalability, depth of function, and flexibility all seeing improvement as I progressed from one system to another.

Before choosing this product, did you evaluate other options? If so, which ones?
- HP Openview, Ipswitch whats up, Big Brother, Nagios (was Net Saint), MRTG, RRD, Cacti, Zenoss, GLPI, Solar Winds, NetMRI, LiveAction... and I'm sure there have been others that I left out, as well as many home-grown systems.

How would you rate the level of customer service and technical support?
- I have never used the official technical support channel for Zabbix, however I have engaged the community by using the support forums. And in the forums I was able to get help directly from one of the Zabbix developers when I found specific issues I needed help with.

Was the initial setup straightforward or complex? In what ways?
- There was a steep learning curve. I have found nearly all systems to have steep curves. The easiest systems were the expensive commercial systems, although even those had some difficulties when you wanted to do something non-standard. Zabbix was not the worst system, and was far from the easiest. However the need to learn something complex is rewarded by the capabilities gained. I'm an expert as implementing monitoring systems, but someone with fewer years of experience will probably find it even more challenging, and may feel the need for training, which is available.

Did you implement through a vendor team or an in-house one? If through a vendor team, how would you rate their level of expertise?
- I am an army of one!

What is your ROI on this product?
- Because I focused on an unsupported free version, my main investment is time. Because of my experience level, and the automation featured I used on day one, I found an immediate ROI half-way through the first day of use. I was able to get done in 4 hours on Zabbix what was going to take many months on the system I had been using before (a combination of Nagios and Cacti).

What was your original setup cost for this product and what is your day-to-day cost of using this product?
- The original set-up cost was an open-source OS deployed in a virtual environment... so about 1/4th the price of one server, and about half a day of labor.

What advice would you give to others looking into implementing this product?
- This is a system designed for professionals, and is most advantageous when used by someone with some training or a lot of experience. A novice can learn to use the system, but be prepared to work hard to learn a fairly complex system.
Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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